US plan for new nuclear arsenal
Secret talks may lead to breaking treaties
Julian Borger in Washington
The Guardian (UK)- Wednesday February 19, 2003:
The Bush administration is planning a secret meeting in August to discuss the
construction of a new generation of nuclear weapons, including "mini-nukes",
"bunker-busters" and neutron bombs designed to destroy chemical or biological agents, according to a leaked Pentagon document.
The meeting of senior military officials and US nuclear scientists at the
Omaha headquarters of the US Strategic Command would also decide whether to
restart nuclear testing and how to convince the American public that the new
weapons are necessary.
The leaked preparations for the meeting are the clearest sign yet that the
administration is determined to overhaul its nuclear arsenal so that it could
be used as part of the new "Bush doctrine" of pre-emption, to strike the
stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons of rogue states.
Greg Mello, the head of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear watchdog
organisation that obtained the Pentagon documents, said the meeting would
also prepare the ground for a US breakaway from global arms control treaties,
and the moratorium on conducting nuclear tests.
"It is impossible to overstate the challenge these plans pose to the
comprehensive test ban treaty, the existing nuclear test moratorium, and US
compliance with article six of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty," Mr
The documents leaked to Mr Mello are the minutes of a meeting in the Pentagon
on January 10 this year called by Dale Klein, the assistant to the defence
secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to prepare the secret conference, planned for
"the week of August 4 2003".
The National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for
designing, building and maintaining nuclear weapons, yesterday confirmed the
authenticity of the document. But Anson Franklin, the NNSA head of
governmental affairs, said: "We have no request from the defence department
for any new nuclear weapon, and we have no plans for nuclear testing.
"The fact is that this paper is talking about what-if scenarios and very long
range planning," Mr Franklin told the Guardian.
However, non-proliferation groups say the Omaha meeting will bring a new US
nuclear arsenal out of the realm of the theoretical and far closer to
reality, in the shape of new bombs and a new readiness to use them.
"To me it indicates there are plans proceeding and well under way ... to
resume the development, testing and production of new nuclear weapons. It's
very serious," said Stephen Schwartz, the publisher of the Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists, who added that it opened the US to charges of hypocrisy
when it is demanding the disarmament of Iraq and North Korea.
"How can we possibly go to the international community or to these countries
and say 'How dare you develop these weapons', when it's exactly what we're
doing?" Mr Schwartz said.
The starting point for the January discussion was Mr Rumsfeld's nuclear
posture review (NPR), a policy paper published last year that identified
Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya as potential targets
for US nuclear weapons.
According to the Pentagon minutes, the August meeting in Strategic Command's
bunker headquarters would discuss how to make weapons to match the new
policy. A "future arsenal panel" would consider: "What are the warhead
characteristics and advanced concepts we will need in the post-NPR
The panel would also contemplate the "requirements for low-yield weapons,
EPWs [earth-penetrating weapons], enhanced radiation weapons, agent defeat
This is the menu of weapons being actively considered by the Pentagon.
Low-yield means tactical warheads of less than a kiloton, "mini-nukes", which
advocates of the new arsenal say represent a far more effective deterrent
than the existing huge weapons, because they are more "usable".
Earth-penetrating weapons are "bunker-busters", which would break through the
surface of the earth before detonating. US weapons scientists believe they
could be used as "agent defeat weapons" used to destroy chemical or
biological weapons stored underground. The designers are also looking at
low-yield neutron bombs or "enhanced radiation weapons", which could destroy
chemical or biological weapons in surface warehouses.
According to the leaked document, the "future arsenal panel" in Omaha would
also ask the pivotal question: "What forms of testing will these new designs
The Bush administration has been working to reduce the amount of warning the
test sites in the western US desert would need to be reactivated after 10
years lying dormant.